Military action in Syria: the Pinocchio effect
President Barack Obama left for the G20 Summit after winning backing of key figures in the U.S. Congress for limited U.S. strikes on Syria. So far American public opinion has not followed his lead. Photo: Reuters/Joshua Roberts.
British Prime Minister David Cameron climbed down from his war horse after losing a House of Commons vote on military intervention in Syria.
Meanwhile public opinion put three-quarters of Brits on the no-go side, according to a BBC poll.
Before France’s President Francois Hollande had a chance to saddle up, polls were running 59 per cent against military action.
And in the U.S., where President Barack Obama won backing from key members of Congress when he called for limited military strikes -- and hopes for a positive vote in the House and Senate -- some 59 per cent of Americans said they won’t answer the call.
There are a variety of complicated arguments for staying out of a conflict that has killed more than 100,000 people, led to the torture, rape and detention of thousands of others and sent 2 million into exile as refugees.
But the current casus belli – the Assad regime’s apparent use of chemical weapons to paralyse and suffocate hundreds of his “enemies” including children – has been met with more cynicism than sizzling rage.
It’s the Pinocchio effect.
The more Obama protests, the longer his metaphorical nose, in the minds of a public that was force-fed too much WMD truthiness by George W. Bush.
Iraq, Bush insisted, was awash in the stuff. And no American could sleep easily in his/her bed while Saddam Hussein was plotting a sneaky nuclear, chemical or biological attack. Voices to the contrary were quickly silenced and whistleblowers throttled.
Now a broker, more battered America is backing away from WMD claims, even ones far more credible than Bush could muster. Obama’s Red Line means little to those whose lives were flat lined by the economic crash and the massive debts of two recent wars.
But American doubt and cynicism goes back much farther: to the multi-fronted war on communism, to the 1953 overthrow of Iran’s leader Mohammad Mossadegh (which eventually gave us the Ayatollah Khomeini and the Islamic Republic) to Vietnam and Laos, to the American-funded Central American death squads to the Iran-Contra scandal. And so it went.
Now Americans and other Westerners are drawing their own lines in spite of their political leaders. It’s exactly the kind of scenario that Bush’s foes warned of when he was touting the false “evidence” for the Iraq invasion. Whatever the evidence, for better or worse, weary Americans are saying they want the country's nose out of other nations' wars.
Olivia Ward has covered conflicts, politics and human rights from the former Soviet Union to the Middle East and South Asia. She worked with director Shelley Saywell on the film Generation of Hate, on Iraq on the eve of the American invasion.